Still some bugs in Rosen­stein story

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - OPINION - By­ron York Colum­nist

Not long af­ter a 2017 meet­ing in which Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein re­port­edly dis­cussed wear­ing a wire to se­cretly record con­ver­sa­tions with Pres­i­dent Trump, two top of­fi­cials in the meet­ing, FBI Deputy Di­rec­tor An­drew McCabe and bu­reau lawyer Lisa Page, went to the of­fice of a third FBI of­fi­cial, gen­eral coun­sel James Baker.

They told Baker what Rosen­stein said, ac­cord­ing to Baker’s re­cent tes­ti­mony to House in­ves­ti­ga­tors. And Baker took the news very se­ri­ously.

Af­ter Rosen­stein’s com­ments were re­ported in The New York Times last month, Rosen­stein sent out word through in­ter­me­di­aries that he hadn’t re­ally meant it, that he was speak­ing sar­cas­ti­cally. But that is not how top FBI of­fi­cials took it at the time.

“The thing that struck me the most was the se­ri­ous look on Baker’s face when he was de­scrib­ing it,” one source close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion said of Baker’s House in­ter­view. “He was con­vey­ing that they (McCabe and Page) took it se­ri­ously, and be­cause they took it se­ri­ously, he took it se­ri­ously.”

“McCabe, Page and Baker were talk­ing about (se­cretly record­ing the pres­i­dent) as a real thing, and dis­cussing it as a se­ri­ous is­sue,” said an­other source close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Times re­ported that in a meet­ing held in the spring of 2017, amid the uproar over Trump’s fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, Rosen­stein “raised the idea of wear­ing a record­ing de­vice, or ‘wire,’ as he put it, to se­cretly tape the pres­i­dent when he vis­ited the White House.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Times, “One par­tic­i­pant asked whether Mr. Rosen­stein was se­ri­ous, and he replied an­i­mat­edly that he was.”

There has been some spec­u­la­tion among Hill Repub­li­cans that McCabe was be­hind the story, that he was try­ing to set Rosen­stein up for a fall. In­ves­ti­ga­tors won­dered whether McCabe and Page were telling Baker the truth.

The Times also re­ported that Rosen­stein “dis­cussed re­cruit­ing Cab­i­net mem­bers to in­voke the 25th Amend­ment to re­move Mr. Trump from of­fice for be­ing un­fit.” One of the sources fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion said that Baker, in his House in­ter­view, “did in­di­cate that there was strong be­lief that Rosen­stein was co­or­di­nat­ing with two peo­ple within the ad­min­is­tra­tion who were con­tem­plat­ing in­vok­ing the 25th.”

The Rosen­stein rev­e­la­tions in­ten­si­fied a long-run­ning de­bate over the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump might fire the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral. The de­bate fo­cused not so much on what should or should not hap­pen to Rosen­stein but on what ef­fect a fir­ing would have on the work of Trump-Rus­sia spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller. With At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions re­cused from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Rosen­stein over­sees Mueller’s of­fice.

Democrats, and some Repub­li­cans, warned Trump against fir­ing Rosen­stein. “This story must not be used as a pre­text for the cor­rupt pur­pose of fir­ing Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rosen­stein in or­der to in­stall an of­fi­cial who will al­low the pres­i­dent to in­ter­fere with the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer shortly af­ter the Times story ap­peared.

No fir­ing seems im­mi­nent. Rosen­stein flew with Pres­i­dent Trump on Air Force One to Flor­ida Mon­day. The two men held a 45-minute dis­cus­sion. Af­ter the trip, Trump was asked whether he plans to fire Rosen­stein. “No, I don’t,” the pres­i­dent an­swered.

Trump’s han­dling of Rosen­stein has baf­fled some Repub­li­cans. Here is a top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who was at the very least mus­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of bug­ging the pres­i­dent and at­tempt­ing a never-used strat­egy to re­move him from of­fice. Some might as­sume that Trump would fire such an of­fi­cial, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately, and have him es­corted from the build­ing.

But there are rea­sons Trump has not acted, start­ing with next month’s elec­tions. “One, it’s strate­gic tim­ing of the midterms,” said a third source close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “And two, there are peo­ple in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who are telling the pres­i­dent that Rosen­stein is a good guy and part of the team. These are peo­ple that Trump talks to reg­u­larly.”

As for Baker, he left the FBI amid con­tro­versy in May. And, of course, McCabe and Page left the bu­reau amid con­tro­versy, too. They are just now be­gin­ning to tell their sto­ries to Congress. And in the case of Rosen­stein and the wear­ing-a-wire dis­cus­sion, much more re­mains to be learned.

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